American village: The area around the intersection of South Redondo and West Adams boulevards in Los Angeles could not be mistaken for a village. It is a grid of narrow bungalows with miniature front lawns, interrupted by blocks of industrial and commercial buildings on the main boulevards, all in the shadow of the elevated Santa Monica Freeway. Known to the city government as West Adams and to many Angelenos as a northern corner of South Central, it is a gray, baking-hot, car-packed neighborhood, unleavened by any sort of park or green space, one of the most densely populated districts in the city. It is also one of the poorest. Historically, it was an African American ghetto that had a reputation as a crime-ridden no-go zone among white Angelenos. It had no economy, its boulevard's only signs advertising heavily guarded liquor stores and check-cashing shops. In 1992, it exploded in violence, the Rodney King riots leaving dozens of its buildings burnt down and scores more looted. Men stood on its tiny front lawns and outside its barren shop fronts with shotguns, desperately defending their rented spaces and swearing to move to a different part of town as soon as they could.
Yet this corner, almost two decades after the riots, has become something else altogether. Its tiny bungalows nowadays tend to be freshly painted and well maintained, with neat gardens and flowerbeds surrounded by new wrought-iron fences in the front and thriving vegetable patches in the back. Its boulevards are now more active and colorful, with many more shops, small industries, and lively markets and eateries, decorated with exuberant, colorful signs and displays. This will never be a beautiful neighborhood and is not a completely safe one, but it has become much neater, happier, and more optimistic. It is now populated mainly with villagers: Six out of 10 people living here today were born in a Latin American village, often the same one as their neighbors. The monthly trips to Western Union made by the Salvadorans living here are almost certainly the largest source of cash income in the tiny village of El Palón; these packages of hundreds of dollars have changed the appearance and quality of the Salvadoran village's housing and given it electricity and television. Members of the Salvadoran enclave on West Adams have helped each other migrate here, find rental apartments, get jobs, save money, set up small businesses, hire additional employees, and buy houses. This village-linked network and hundreds of others just like it, which connect adjoining streets and blocks to remote peasant districts in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, have turned southern and south-central Los Angeles into a quilt of arrival cities. This rough-and-tumble parcel of city blocks not only turns Central American villages into better places, it also very efficiently turns their sons and daughters into functioning Americans.